September 30, 2009

Just come in...

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I haven't spent much time in Taipei since I left my banking job, so it's been a while since I caught up with some of my old colleagues.  Tonight they were kind enough to take me to Just in Bistro, somewhere I've been wanting to try since the place opened.  The man behind this hot venue is Asia's own celebrity chef Justin Quek, who still has La Petite Cuisine in Taipei and is opening two new venues in Hong Kong.

Unlike some of Justin's other establishments - he is known for his high-end French creations - this place is all about casual dining.  A reasonable wine list and a menu full of "tapas" served with pitchers of sangria... The combination makes for a lively and inviting atmosphere - a place you can just drop in after work.

Confit of cherry tomatoes and Mediterranean olives - the tomatoes were pretty has been removed and you get the full flavors.

Marinated fish carpaccio with fresh herbs - a refreshing dish that's not bad.

Clams a la Mariniere in casserole - standard fare that's done well.  Came in a little red Le Creuset mini casserole.

Forest King pizza - very yummy with mushrooms and black truffle paste on top...guess it's all about 'shrooms!

Fried "rillons" pork - how could I resist fatty pork belly, especially when it's deep-fried?  I happily devoured a few pieces in quick succession.  I think some of the fat has been extracted in the frying process, though...

Seafood croquettes - not bad...I could feel the chunks of shrimp inside in addition to fish and crab meat.

Fried farm chicken, lemon mayo - a bit Japanese in style with a lingering taste of ginger.  Lemon mayo works well.

Char-grilled brochette of chicken liver, spiced red wine glaze - very nice... liver was not overdone and was still soft and wobbly.

Steak frites - I actually didn't touch the steak, but the fries - sprinkled with black pepper - disappeared in no time.

We took in a few desserts to wrap up the meal, but I was honestly pretty disappointed.  The one highlight here was the fact that they had canelés, and these were done pretty well.  My good friend sitting next to me mentioned that he's had three tries at making these, so I naturally should expect delivery of a dozen perfectly done canelés on my next visit...

We ordered Justin's signature tarte tatin, but were told that the restaurant had run out of vanilla ice cream... Huh?  How does this happen?  The waitress offered us red bean ice cream instead, which we emphatically refused.  After some discussion with the wait staff, we dispatched a team to the nearest convenience store and procured a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.  Just as it was in Shanghai earlier in the month, the bottom piece of the pastry fell off as I was cutting into the thin tarte...

We were all stunned beyond words when the profiteroles arrived.  We had already told the  wait staff that we would not want red bean ice cream as a substitute for vanilla for the tarte tatin.  So what did they do but insert scoops of red bean ice cream into the puffs?  The combination was awful.

We adjourned to the newly opened Hotel Quote, a boutique hotel opened by one of the friends who dined with us tonight.  We took a tour of the hotel guest's pantry/dining area as well as one of the rooms, and proceeded to examine every little thing to get a sense of the thought process behind the creation and the attention to detail.  I must say I was very, very impressed.  My friend and his team definitely had put a lot of thought into how each element in the room would be utilized by the guests.  This certainly looked like a hotel that I would want to stay in when I travel.

We moved back to 333, the bar/restaurant just off the lobby.  With lots of silver relief on the walls and ceiling, one could argue that the place was very "bling".  The good thing is that the lighting was rather soft, and it was more of an "elegant bling" rather than being in-your-face.  The whole place had a nice and cool lounge feel to it.

It was getting late so we left after a drink.  This was definitely a fun evening, and I look forward to getting together with this gang again...sooner rather than later.

September 29, 2009

Mon restaurant préféré à Taipei

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I'm back at Paris 1930, my favorite French restaurant in Taipei, for another birthday celebration.  This time we were taking out my uncle, as we all missed his 70th birthday earlier in the month.  Coincidentally today was also Dad's birthday, although traditionally we celebrate his birthday according to the lunar and not the Gregorian calendar.

I started with the amuse bouche of deep-fried croquette made with fish and potato.  Not bad.

I finally used up the last jar of beluga caviar which I bought at Almaty Airport last year.  I brought it in yesterday, and the chef prepared 8 different types of traditional condiments for us. It added something special to the evening.

King prawn, avocado and mango mosaique, chilled tomato consommé, sesame crisp - this may seem like a pretty standard dish, and the execution is certainly solid.  But the consommé makes things interesting as it tasted of green tomatoes with a hint of the prawns and some paprika.  Nice and refreshing.

Parsley crusted frog leg, parmesan risotto and chicken jus - the frog legs were decent and a little springy in texture, and I liked the parsley crust.  The risotto has some white truffle oil so it was pretty fragrant, but the strong flavors of parmesan dominated.  The parmesan "chips" on top were pretty yummy.

"Provençale" cod fish, with coco bean, red pepper, garlic and pesto - I love cod and this was done pretty well.  Nicely pan-fried and crispy on the outside while staying soft and moist inside thanks to the thick cut.  There is a small tempura piece of anchovy on top.  The whole thing sat on a bed of "salsa" with beans, red peppers, chorizo and mushrooms. The pesto sauce provided complementary flavors.

Tapenade stuffed organic grouse, eggplant square and chips, lemon confit sauce - the grouse wasn't as gamey as I expected, but was still very tasty.  Interesting to have tapenade stuffed inside...I've only had black olive tapenade as a spread before. The leg was rolled up into a tube after stuffing, which looks kinda cute.  I preferred the eggplant without the creamy stuffing of the square.

Roasted lamb loin and sweet bread roll, socca, carrot pureed and light cumin jus - I loved this lamb.  It wasn't shy and delivered the full flavors with the fat.  Worked perfectly with the cumin-flavored jus.  The carrot mash was very sweet and I almost mistook it for sweet potato mash... The "sweet bread" roll was disappointing.  I couldn't taste anything that remotely reminded me of sweetbread... just some blended chicken paste with a few chunks stuffed inside.  Oh well...

Desserts here have often been hit-or-miss.  Tonight it was an opéra cake which did not impress.  But the shot glass of vanilla ice cream with coffee cream was yummy enough.

Dad brought a bottle of 1998 Opus One.  A very nice wine with nose of sweet fruit, mint, vanilla, coffee and a bit of smoke.  Opus has always been a solid wine, and while it may not always "wow" me, so far I've never been disappointed by it.

So I spent another nice evening at Paris 1930... what brings us back year after year is the service as well as the very solid cuisine, and once again Jack took very good care of us.  Sure there are always hot, new restaurants opening up, but I've struggled to find one that will consistently beat this place in terms of food and service.  The only drawback I see is the ambience, as the diners today prefer a more casual and lively atmosphere instead of a somber and classically elegant dining room with staff in tuxedos.

September 28, 2009

Hot new destination in Taipei

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Tonight I got together with a bunch of finance types in Taipei, all of whom are into food and wine.  They chose one of the hottest restaurants in town - Abu - as the venue.  This was just perfect, since my friends were just asking if I had given this a try...

The chef Abu - who is originally from Hong Kong - used to be the chef at Tutto Bello.  Many people in Taipei are fond of this Italian establishment, although on my last visit a few years ago I was less than impressed.  I checked out a few reviews of this place on the net, and I was pretty excited about trying this place.

The restaurant is still pretty new and was getting some rave reviews, so they were pretty packed.  We weren't able to book the private room in the basement, and ended up squeezing together as we became a party of 11 instead of 8...  Naturally, we ran into a friend who ended up sitting at the next table!  I guess word about this place got around fast...

We did not ask the chef to prepare a special tasting menu for us, so we ended up ordering the slightly more expensive of the two set menus.

I think they were a bit overwhelmed by our group, so the service level was slightly off.  First they had to deal with the fact that we increased our headcount, and scrambled to find a way to fit all of us in the space.  Then we had brought a bunch of wines for the meal, which they definitely didn't expect, and spent some time trying to organize the wines and the glasses.  Right off the bat, they basically forgot to serve us the welcome cup of Eastern Beauty tea (東方美人) - which was a little disappointing.  They also struggled to come up with enough glasses and decanters to cope with our wines, for which I don't blame them.  After all, they weren't expecting 11 people x multiple changes of wine glasses.  But one of the captains did break the cork when opening the best bottle of wine, and I found that annoying.

King crab legs, lobster and scallop salad - a nice combination of seafood to start us off.  Served with pesto sauce, olive oil and some cream over arugula and frisée.

Pan-fried foie gras with apple sauce - the foie was done well, as it was charred on the outside while soft and moist inside.  Pairing it with apple was a classic combo, although the texture was unexpected in the form of apple sauce.  The red peppercorns garnished on top gave a bit of extra kick/bite and was pretty interesting.

Cream of mushroom soup - not to take anything away from Abu, but I never find this very interesting... hence I didn't even bother taking a picture.

Langoustine with sweet corn mash - actually the yellow blob on the bottom was a cross between mash and polenta in terms of consistency, with whole kernels of corn.  The salsa on top was pretty interesting.  But the langoustine itself was a disaster - it was mushy!  I expect my langoustines to be fresh, firm and bouncy, not soft and mushy like mashed potato... Bleh!

Rose granita - every review on the net talked about how interesting and intense this was, but I didn't think it was all that... Yes, I could taste the rose but only mildly - which was just as well since this is a palate-cleanser and not supposed to hijack my taste buds.

For main course I picked the ox tongue braised in red wine, despite most net reviewers raving about the osso bucco or the skate wing.  As the chef came from Tutto Bello, an Italian restaurant, I had an image in my mind of the tasty ox tongue I used to have at Cipriani in Hong Kong.  Well...what I got didn't exactly fit with the picture in my head.  First of all, the slices were pretty thin instead of being thick-cut like the traditional Italian style.  Then the chef got creative (guess I can't blame him for trying) and drizzled potato mash on top, which I initially thought was mayo but was grateful to discover otherwise.  There was a bit of black truffle sauce on top, and the red wine sauce didn't turn out to be very heavy.  Not one of my favorite ox tongue dishes.

Fortunately, a friend of mine was kind enough to cut me a piece of his osso bucco, which was very tender and cuts like butter.  Guess I should have followed the crowd...

Strawberries with almond cream - the strawberries were very ripe, almost seem like they were lightly poached.  The taste of almonds was more intense than I expected - probably from real almonds instead of extract - which I liked very much.

Coffee mousse cake with vanilla ice cream - not bad, and the chef used real vanilla ice cream with the seeds.

We were offered some madeleines and what I think were described as amarettis stuck together with some lemon cream.  The latter was OK but the former was kinda disappointing.  This is the second restaurant I've been to this year which failed to make a decent madeleine... what's going on?

I was a little buzzed by this time, and made the mistake of ordering coffee instead of tea.  It completely slipped my mind that the tea on offer isn't just your regular black tea - although that is available - but supposedly nicely aged Pu Er (普洱).  Aarrrggghhh....

Now onto the wines.  There was an abundance of bottles and we didn't get around to opening them all, which was just as well.  I don't think the restaurant could have handled any more wine glass changes!

2004 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Blanc - this wine did not disappoint, with a sweet and slightly oxidized nose and notes of pear and apricot.  Surprisingly very ripe on the palate with a bit of butter and a slightly bitter finish.

2006 Lucien Le Moine Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets - from arguably the best plot of land in the appellation, this was a beautiful wine from a vintage that's overshadowed by the great 2005s.  Reasonably sweet on the nose with farmy, bacon fat and Asian spice notes.  Drinking pretty well now even without much aeration.

1989 Jaboulet La Chapelle - I've been waiting to open this bottle for some time now, and it wasn't bad.  Initially a bit grassy and a hint of vegetal notes, it opened up to reveal lots of sweetness with ripe prunes, pine needles and a little "hot" and alcoholic.  On the palate it was smooth but still full-bodied, although it faded and by the end the finish was somewhat acidic.

1989 Troplong Mondot - another wine I've been dying to open.  Classic Bordeaux with peppery and smoky nose, a reasonable amount of fruit core with a full-blown palate and a long finish.  Was this bottle deserving of the 96 points from Parker? Not quite.

2003 Sassicaia - a generous contribution from a fellow diner.  The wine is still young but you can see the potential.  Nose of sweet fruit, black cherries and smoke.  Still a bit alcoholic.  The captain actually knocked the bottle to the ground as he was opening another bottle... fortunately it didn't break.

2007 Mollydooker Carnival of Love - I was sure that the wine would be too young, but my friend was pretty set on opening this and sharing it with everyone.  We opened the screw top, poured a bit of the wine out into a separate glass, then my friend proceeded to shake the bottle vigorously in an attempt to aerate the wine.  Apparently this process - called the Mollydooker Shake - is recommended by Sparky and Sarah Marquis who are the proprietors of the winery.  I can certainly understand why.  These wines are total fruit bombs and people seem to want to drink them very young, so the only way to make these wines palatable was to be unconventional and shake things up a little!  Well, as much as I have a preference for big wines, this was still too much for me.  Huge, sweet nose with coffee, toffee, vanilla, caramel, cotton candy, tangerine, iron and mineral notes.  Very alcoholic at 16%.  I think people should wait a few more years for the edges to wear off a bit...

I was a pretty happy camper by the end of the meal.  Not only did I get to try out a new and hot restaurant in Taipei, but I drank some good wines and caught up with old friends.  Abu is a pretty decent restaurant, but does it have "shadows of Robuchon" was some people suggest?  Not in my book.  The real L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is supposed to open in town sometime in mid- to late-October.  I look forward to the real deal.

September 27, 2009

A Taiwanese feast

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There was a long-awaited gathering with some ex-colleagues tonight.  When we used to work together, the core group of friends used to call ourselves "rice ball" or 飯糰/團 in Chinese.  It's a play on words but reflects our common love of food, as we used to go out for lunch and sometimes dinner together.

Tonight we met at Golden Formosa (金蓬萊), a classic Taiwanese restaurant in my neighborhood.  Despite being within walking distance from my parents' house, I've actually never been to this restaurant.  They have recently moved to a new location nearby, and the new digs look much nicer.

We placed our order with our waitress, and the dishes started arriving almost immediately in quick succession.  We had to tell them to stop sending us food as we ran out of space to put them on our small table.

Braised bamboo shoots (紅燒桂竹筍) - this was marinated in typical Taiwanese style which lends it a distinctive and slightly strong flavor.  Served in rather chunky bits along with some pork, this was a little bit spicy thanks to the spicy bean sauce (豆瓣醬).

Braised tofu and pig's intenstine (滷豆腐拼薑絲大腸) - the tofu was very soft and tender, with some air bubbles inside; and I've always loved the large intestines found in Taiwanese cuisine...

Steamed free-range chicken (白片放山雞) - I took in the largest piece of breast meat, and it was pretty decent.

Formosa crispy fried pork spare ribs (蓬萊排骨酥) - I was really tempted to have a second piece of this... it was sooooo good!  They didn't just marinate the spare ribs, but the batter itself was so delicious and fragrant.  There's no question why this is a perennial best-seller.

Steamed mud crab with glutinous rice (紅蟳油飯) - this is a classic dish at any Taiwanese feast.  The mud crabs aren't very big but carry a good amount of reddish roe.  The Taiwanese sticky rice is used in all kinds of celebrations - birth of a new child, new year...etc.  I couldn't resist the rice and had seconds, which always come to haunt me later on in the meal...

Deep-fried oysters (香炸鮮蚵) - always yummy, but really, really fatty... goes well with pickles.

Buddha leaping over wall (佛跳墻) - yes, I tried to translate the name of the dish literally since I can't remember if someone had invented a better name.  This is a traditional soup loaded with ingredients, which can be relatively plain (such as the one we had) or ultra-premium (with sharks' fin, abalone...etc).  This is usually double-boiled and is meant to be so delicious that a Buddha, coming upon the wonderful smell of the soup, would leap over a wall and steal into the kitchen for some of this.

It's been a while since I've had this soup.  Tonight there was bamboo shoots, quail eggs, taro, conpoy, chestnuts, deep-fried pork, jujube... two small bowls was all I could handle since we had this near the end of the meal.

Stir-fried sweet potato leaves (草山地瓜葉) - another classic Taiwanese veg, which actually carries some health benefits (don't ask me for specifics since I don't remember...)

Deep-fried taro sticks (香炸芋條) - a popular dessert, especially with the ladies who can't seem to resist taro.

I must say that I had a really good time.  It's been a while since I sat down to have traditional Taiwanese food, and it's always good to catch up with this group of hungry friends.  I gotta come back to Taiwan more often...

September 23, 2009

Sacrificing a pig

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There was a big gathering of chefs and foodies tonight, and a tiny suckling piglet no more than 2 weeks old was sacrificed to satisfy our appetites.  The venue of this ritual?  Nino's Cozinha.

The first to arrive was the pig - leitão assado no forno - which we pre-ordered.  I'm always happy to have roast pig, especially with that yummy layer of fat and crispy crackling.  But honestly, this isn't anywhere near the best pig I've had, and better value could be had elsewhere.  As in my last visit, I thoroughly enjoyed nibbling on an ear - which has puffed up like a soufflé potato chip...

A series of starters came next.  Bacalhao à braz remains one of my favorites.  It was already cold by the time I finished the pig and got around to it, but I still loved it.  The fragrance of crispy fried potato strips stir-fried with onions, eggs and bacalhao... Mmm mmm good!

Dobradinha com grão de bico guisado - the chickpea stew with ox tripe, chouriço and morcilla was delicious, with a base made from tomato and sweet peppers.  How can I say no to tripe and blood sausage?

Lulas asado na panela com alho cebola e picante - the sauteéd squid was very fresh and delicious, with the light taste of olive oil and "salsa".

Pasteis de bacalhao - these deep-fried balls of shredded bacalhao and potato mash are another favorite of mine.  I wish I had more than one of these, though...

Amêijoas à moda de casa - this is the usual clams in white wine sauce, but I only had one little clam...

Frango assado com piri piri - today's piri piri chicken was disappointing.  There wasn't enough sauce, and even then the sauce just didn't have enough kick.  My tongue was supposed to go numb from the Sichuan peppercorns!  Others at the table agreed with me, and there was lots of chicken leftover.

Rabo de boi guisado - the oxtail was pretty good.  The meat wasn't falling off the bone, and instead was slightly chewy.  I liked the tomato and carrot-based sauce.

Repolho branco assado na panela com bacalhao e alho - I love cabbage, garlic and bacalhao separately, and the combination of all three is even better!

Finally, two claypots of camarao com pimenta no forno - in my opinion the best dish in the house.  The mix of green, white and black peppercorns from Morocco was just amazingly fragrant.  The prawns today were much larger than the ones I had before, perhaps they chose to use different types due to seasonality.  The prawns were first pan-fried, then loaded into the claypots with the peppercorns and baked at 300 degrees.  The pan-fried garlic here was damn good, too.  One of my friends decided to break apart some of the grissinis and bury them in the peppercorns, letting the flavors infuse into the sticks. I should have tried one of them...

I was never very impressed with their desserts, so I decided to share a small piece of the lemon tart and passed on the serradura.

Amazingly the 11 of us only managed to drink two bottles of wine.  The 2002 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard was smooth on the palate with good concentration.  The 2006 Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett had notes of lemon, minerals, a bit of plastic and was a little sweeter than I expected from a Kabinett.

We ended up having a lot of food leftover, which was a surprising and probably a function of the crowd eating less than they normally would.  No one even bothered to touch the costelas pimentão no forno. I think next time I will pass on the suckling pig, though...

September 21, 2009

The last thirty-something birthday

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Another birthday dinner - this time for a friend who was celebrating his last birthday with a 3-handle.  My friend typically only dines at a handful of restaurants, and tonight it was to be Matsubishi (松菱) for some upscale teppanyaki (鉄板焼).

The birthday boy ordered all the goodies - abalone (アワビ), spiny lobster (伊勢海老), giant oysters (牡蠣, forgot to ask about the origin but suspect to be Japanese), and some type of clam that was pretty yummy.  As you would expect, all the seafood was cooked on the hot plate live, and you could definitely taste how fresh everything was.

I really enjoyed the Pacific saury (秋刀魚), especially since I got some of the tasty bits with the fish guts.  Love that full-on oily, fishy flavor...  The tofu was OK, and things got better with thin slices of ox tongue (牛タン).

Now the beef... first we had thin slices of beef wrapped around fried garlic and spring onions.  This was classic, and I just couldn't get enough of the tasty filling with all that garlic.  Of course the beef was very flavorful with all that fat, and the combination was just perfect.  The thick-cut sirloin was also excellent.

To finish up the meal, there was a bowl of lobster head soup.  I loved the soup as I could taste the sweetness of the lobster on top of the savory base of the soup.  And that wonderful umami... yum....  I also had a bowl of inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん) in curry sauce.  The chef added an extra pan-fried egg on top which made it that much better.

There's always alcohol at a birthday celebration.  I brought a bottle of 2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrieres.  Pretty decent wine, with good ripeness but not over-powering like some Californians can be.  The birthday boy took a bottle of the 1995 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, which was excellent.  Finally there was my bottle of 2001 BOND Matriarch, which was ripe, fruity, sweet without being over the top.

I must thank the birthday boy for an excellent meal.  It's been a while since I had some good teppanyaki, and tonight I realized how much I missed it.

September 20, 2009

Simple but rich lunch

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Got up early this morning and caught a movie with a friend at Pacific Place.  After the movie we decided to stroll over to Star Street, and stepped into the Classifieds Mozzarella Bar to grab an early lunch.

Since we're at a mozzarella bar, of course I was gonna order some of the house special cheese.  I took the mozzarella di bufala campana DOP from Mandara to start.  Four slices of very soft, creamy and yummy mozzarella served over a bed of arugula and a variety of tomatoes - red cherry, yellow, and purple among them.  This was perfect for lunch on a warm day.  A drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of black pepper... the sweetness of the ripe tomatoes complement nicely with the freshness of the milky and creamy cheese.  

Unfortunately, the richness of the cheese got to me pretty quickly, and despite having consumed only a bit of the dish, my stomach was telling me that it was getting full!  I was in trouble, because something else was coming my way.

The scrambled eggs with smoked salmon arrived, and initially all I could do was stare at the plate.  Not that I couldn't eat anymore, but I was contemplating the extent to which I was going to stuff myself.  Not wanting to waste a perfectly good dish, I dug in and tried to enjoy it as much as I could.  The execution was OK, but the reality was that the rich, fatty salmon only added to my troubles.  I am sure that under normal circumstances this would be perfectly enjoyable, but unfortunately I wasn't in the right shape today.

Well at least I accomplished what I came here for, which was to sample the mozzarella.  And I must say I liked it.  Quite a bit.  I think next time I'll be brave and order up some burrata...

September 17, 2009

Michelin-star Shanghainese?

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I had lunch today with a couple of friends, and one of them was craving some xiaolongbao after reading my posts about Shanghai. For people in the Central/Admiralty area without the usual club memberships, that means Shanghai Garden (紫玉蘭) - the restaurant from Maxim's Group which earned a coveted star in the inaugural Michelin Red Guide for Hong Kong and Macau.

We started with diced bean curd with minced preserved vegetables (嶄得來春樁小蔥拌豆腐). It's a refreshing cold starter, but nothing to write home about.

Next up was the main dish for today - the sauteéd crab with glutinous rice cakes and soy sauce paste (上海醬油蟹年糕).  This is usually one of my favorite dishes but unfortunately this one fell a little flat.  Not that it tasted bad or anything, but it just wasn't  exactly authentic.  Then I reminded myself that I was dining at a Maxim's outlet - where Cantonese and Sichuan dishes can show up on the menu of a Shanghainese restaurant.  What did I expect?

The carp fish and shredded turnip soup (揚子江蘿蔔絲鯽魚湯) was pretty yummy.  It's been a while since I've had this type of carp, but somehow mom never made use of this recipe.  The milky soup has the classic taste of ginger, spring onions and white pepper along with some rice wine.  I had some of the nice shredded turnip, but didn't end up touching the fish itself.

This particular version of stewed "lion head" minced pork balls with vegetables (杭州最頂好清燉獅子頭) wasn't quite to my liking.  I have to say that there's nothing wrong with the execution here, only a matter of preference.  I grew up with mom pan-frying these giant meatballs until they are golden on the outside, with a just a hint of toasty and burnt flavor.  The ones here were stewed in clear broth, and still have the sort of translucent color and texture you find with pork that's been cooked just enough to stay pink. My friends seemed to really like these, though...

We had half a dozen xiaolongbao (小籠包), and somehow I ended up having 3 of these... While these were pretty decent, they fell far short of the ones from Jiajia in Shanghai.  The skin was reasonably thin, and they were a bit soupy inside, but somehow the taste of the pork stuffing inside just wasn't quite right...

I was pretty stuffed so I passed on dessert.

Honestly, this wasn't a bad meal. Admittedly we didn't order any fancy dishes - just simple, standard fare one can find in any given Shanghainese restaurant - so perhaps there was never gonna be any "wow" factor.  But do I think the restaurant deserves its Michelin star?  Hell, no!  Maxim's restaurants are designed to appeal to the masses, and they have adjusted the recipes at all of their restaurants to suit local palates - hence automatically rendering them unauthentic in taste.  The Michelin people simply don't know what authentic regional Chinese cuisines taste like.  But then again, we've known that since the day the first guide went on sale, haven't we?

P.S. Towards the end of lunch we saw some flies buzzing around our table and trying to sample the carp on the plate.  Not something I expect at a Michelin-starred restaurant...

September 15, 2009

Size does matter

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Tonight my friends behind the Press Room Group invited their friends - about 60 of us - to S/M/L, their latest venture in Times Square.  This location is different from their previous outlets in that it's catering much more to the masses.  As one of the partners put it, the price point is just a tad higher than someplace like Spaghetti House...

Upon arrival, I was handed a stored value card for use with the Enomatic machines and immediately began to try out some of the wines.  The wine prices were pretty reasonable, with most "S" portions (50ml) priced around HKD 20.  I picked out a few wines and tasted them with "M" portions (100ml).

We sat down at the long, communal tables and waited for the food to arrive.  The menu for the evening was pretty large, and food mostly came in M or L portions for us to share.

Spanish Serrano ham / salami milano / dill pickles - a good way to start the evening. Drizzled with a bit of olive oil.

Crostini / tomatoes / olive / basil - a very simple and yummy starter.  Apparently the S portion gives you just two of these, which would be enough for a taste but not too filling.

Meatballs / spicy tomato sauce - not bad at all.  Another simple and homey dish.

Foie gras / confit chicken / truffle salad / toast - this came in a jar (as would a few other items) and the combination was pretty interesting and yummy.  The creamy sweetness of the foie was well-balanced by the smoky, savory flavors of the confit - not to mention the texture of the shredded chicken.  This was good enough for me to have a second serving.

Salmon tartare - this is a DIY dish, where we would have to mix in the quail eggs, lemon juice and the herbs ourselves.  Not so impressed but then again I never liked the combination of lemon and salmon.

Seared tuna / sesame / soy / sake - actually not bad.  Lightly seared with a raw and tender center.

Sauteed green beans / tomatoes / garlic - the beans were fresh and crunchy, and the tomato sauce was made from fresh tomatoes, without the sweetness and/or salt from canned versions.

Deep fried polenta / parmesan / tomato sauce - interesting to see this on the menu.  Looked like giant fried mozzarella sticks at first, but the polenta was actually pretty OK.

Spicy lamb kebab / mint yogurt / onion salad - this was really awesome.  Full-flavored lamb on a stick, no holding back that yummy taste.  I didn't want to detract from the taste so no yogurt was gonna touch my lamb.  Oh and the onion salad was a nice complement.

Classic lasagna al forno - not bad.  Just the comfort food that I may be in the mood for from time to time.

Linguine / clams / white wine / parsley - pretty standard stuff... nothing to complain about.

Crispy pork belly / red cabbage-apple coleslaw - not the best I've had but you won't hear me complain too loudly... after all it is crispy and crunchy fatty pork!   Coleslaw's not bad.

Risotto / braised ox-tail / parmesan - now this was pretty good stuff.  The braised ox-tail was tender and yummy, and the risotto was al dente.

Chargrilled chicken / mojo sauce / mango salsa - actually not too bad... a bit spicy and the mango salsa made it pretty interesting.

There was a trio of desserts: the pear and almond slice / vanilla sauce was ho-hum; the lime cream with vanilla pineapple was not bad; but the pot of chocolate / chocolate mousse / fudge was divine.  The mousse itself was yummy but the rich and sweet fudge cubes... how could I resist devouring this?

There was just too much food, and I actually didn't even touch a few of the dishes.  Overall I thought the food was pretty decent, and if I were looking for a meal with a few home style dishes, this is definitely one place I would keep in mind.  Next time, though, I'd be able to get a bunch of bite-size orders and sample more dishes.

September 12, 2009

A bunch of 45-year olds

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Tonight I had to pleasure of hosting a dinner to celebrate (belatedly) the birthdays of two friends.  I had asked my friends to fly in from Tokyo, because I was going to open some really nice wines for dinner that won't travel well by air.  I'm happy that my friends obliged with my request.  I think we all agree that this has turned out to be a fantastic evening for all.

The celebration would be held at Pierre, where the chef set up a menu to match the wines of the evening. I was very apprehensive about how things would turn out this evening.  After all, the line up of wines are all from my friends' birth vintage - 1964.  With wines of this age, you never know how things would turn out.

We started with the 1964 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne Château de Beaune, served from a magnum.  This was the oldest dry white wine I've ever had, and I really didn't know what to expect even though the vintage was rated to be a decent one for white Burgundy.

This wine turned out to be the surprise of the evening.  It was simply fantastic.  Beautiful amber color.  Initially nose of mushrooms, oxidized with a bit of sweet grass.  Very, very long finish and the alcohol was very evident.  A bit ripe on the palate as the acidity level has fallen.  Later on notes of oxidized pear, figs, cotton candy.  Hitting its peak around one and a half hours after opening, with rich, creamy vanilla ice cream, apple, straw and mineral notes.  Awesome!

Cauliflower cream, cucumber jelly; oysters with caviar, white mushrooms - this was very refreshing and yummy on a warm day.  I can't say that the flavors of cauliflower were prominent as it was upstaged by the taste of cucumbers.  Of course the oysters and caviar were the center of attention.  The oysters were very sweet and creamy, with just a bit of the brine.  Caviar was delish, too, and strips of white mushrooms completed the dish and complemented the Corton-Charlemagne.

Pan-fried foie gras with gingerbread, slightly acid figs and baby spinach - the foie was absolutely perfect.  The gingerbread, though, was a surprise as the taste was pretty strong and kinda overpowering.  The figs worked well with the foie.  Initially we were pretty surprised that the chef chose to pair the white wine with foie, but I think it worked pretty well.

1964 DRC Richebourg - this was clearly the wine of the evening as we all expected.  An explosive sweet nose with tons of fruit.  A little bit minty almost, with some bacon fat, leather, red currant, prune and tangerine notes.  Absolutely beautiful to the end.

Chicken pascaline: lobster sliced with brown butter and carrot stew; polyphénol sauce - the pascaline was kinda interesting.  The lobster was a little on the dry side, much like a similar dish I had last time.  I quickly removed the pile of dill and parsley on top since it would have detracted from the wine.  Most people found the polyphénol sauce interesting - kinda like a red wine reduction.

1964 Haut-Brion - my friend Kevin kindly dug this out of his cellar to go with tonight's theme.  This was a beautiful wine in its own right, with smoky, brett / medicinal nose along with notes of animal, game, pine, sous bois and a hint of grass.  Unfortunately the wine followed the spectacular Richebourg, so it did pale a little in comparison.

Beef filet, flambé with Armagnac; mashed potatoes and truffle - the filet was very tender, but it was the potatoes that stole the show.  Blocs of foie were encased inside the potatoes, and the whole thing was enhanced with the beautiful taste of truffles.

1964 Noval Colheita - now this was also a real treat as one of the birthday boys is a real big fan of port.  The colheita was harvested in 1964 and aged in cask until bottling in September 2008, and it spent more than 40 years oxidizing just like a regular tawny.  Nose of hazelnut, grape, walnut, caramel, crème brûlée and prunes.  Nose was initially a bit sharp but the alcohol dissipated a bit in glass.  The finish was just wonderful, as the fragrance stays in your mouth long after you've swallowed the wine.

Pre-dessert was an interesting bowl of beer ice cream and passion fruit sauce, with a few small bites (such as marzipan) on the side.

Biscuit soufflé au chocolat guanaja - nice but a little too much and rich for me...

Finally there was a small blini with a slice on lemon on top to finish.

This was an evening of great wines and good food, and one that I am sure to remember for a long time to come.


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